“Included” — Ephesians 3: 1-12 (Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 2015)

Jan. 4, 2015 – Epiphany Text: Ephesians 3:1-12

Dear Friends in Christ,

One of our basic human instincts is to be included. To be in a group. God did not make Adam to remain alone. We even see fellowship within the Holy Trinity, as Moses reveals their conversation in Gen. 1:26: “Let us make man…” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speak, a holy conversation revealing unity and purpose by the three persons of the Godhead.
It’s Epiphany and it is God’s way that we are . . .
As the biblical story of creation unfolds, the first two created let their ears hear the voice of a separatist god-wannabe, the devil. They remove themselves from God and the fellowship they had with one another. No longer a community, with God or the other, they followed only the selfish designs of the devil. Exclusion and division.
This is how it is when the rebellious ones try to make a community apart from God on their own terms. We curve in on ourselves. This churchless community is absolutely all about me, myself, and I.
You know what that’s like. You were there once, before Christ snatched you by His gracious grip and made you His own, a decisive one-sided divine work. Oh, you still tend to lean that way, away from concern for God and each other. The Lord, though, is rather persistent in his care for you. He won’t let you fade into self-exclusion and division, to be a community of one.
He sent the unifier, and his shed blood has brought the world back to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit’s preaching. It would have been easy for this ragtag group of Ephesus, mostly Gentiles, non-Jews, to believe they were outside the circle of inclusion, that they were not God’s Church. Why, nearly their whole city was involved in the worship of Artemis, the goddess of fertility. The prostitution house was within two hundred yards of their famous library and their amphitheater, which seated 25,000. Now, that was a holy fellowship, they thought – intellect, sexual enticement, and group entertainment. But, in reality, it was only a community of perversion.
This, Paul says, is why he is sent. Yes, the Jews are God’s chosen people if they believe in the Father’s provision for their sin. But so are the Gentiles. Unholiness, whether it comes from the Jews or the Gentiles, did not advance one into God’s circle of inclusion, His Church.
You Gentiles, you members of this Church in Ephesus, and you sitting here today, do not overlook this fact. God sent a special call to man named Paul. His call papers were not filled out by a call committee but by God himself in person.
He did this so that you would know that the mystery revealed fully in Christ is that all people, all are included, all are Church members by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Kingdom inclusion is by grace, not by any kind of merit. Your unholiness is on Jesus and The Father accepts the sacrifice.
You need not doubt or despair Ephesus Lutheran Church members. You are not any less than Paul, the chief of sinners. Since inclusion is on God’s terms, that is, his Son’s replacement punishment and sin-payment for you, there is no doubt.
Even more so, you have access to the Father through Christ and your Baptism. You think all these powerful buildings around you and the pomp and power displayed by the Roman hierarchy here in town are greater than you? Just the reverse! God has declared you His, included, the Church, glorious and holy, united, one Body, Jew and Greek, male and female, all one with Him.
Through Jesus, and alongside Jesus, you petition the Father as Jesus does. You talk to God about your neighbor, and then you talk to your neighbor about your God, joining Jesus, your great High Priest, in holy work.
And what does this holy work look like? Many of you have commented on my long hair – good and bad and in fun. I have explained the story to a few of you but not to the whole congregation. I have not had a haircut for over four months. My barber had some major surgery about a month after my last haircut. He is a widower and we had my mom’s death and his wife’s death to talk about during haircuts. Anyway, we invited him and his son to the boy’s football games this fall. Then through the work of the Spirit they came to worship with us for a few weeks leading up to his surgery. Since he has gotten home, I have called him every other week and have been praying for him. He has had a rough time recovering. At Christmas I sent him a card with a picture of my long hair and encouraged him with the words that I needed him behind his barber chair in 2015. That has been my witness. That is just a small example of God’s holy work. I know many of you have your own work that the Holy Spirit is blessing.
Fear not, O Church, for God still sends those to do His work. As the Word is taught and preached, the broken and despairing are brought into his Church, no matter the race, color, or size of sin. And the Church stands.
Let all hell break loose. But do not fear. You are so secure in his wounds, drenched by His blood in baptismal splashing and drinking of the river of life at the rail, that you do not run. Rather, you, His Church, face westward into the wind and storm…snuggled right behind Him, dragging others with you.